Think Student is a mindset; moving you away from what you think you know, towards using real insights from the students themselves to inform your strategies. It manifests itself in everything that we do here at Net Natives, and this year’s Think Student Live was a little taster of all the fascinating data, stories and experiences that help each of us become true student specialists.

It was fantastic to see so many friendly faces (both physically and virtually) and bring together like-minded marketers from institutions all over the world after a tough two years. We heard from a whole host of clever people; from those who have been in the sector for decades, to students just stepping into adulthood, each and every one bringing valuable insights to the table.  

So let’s rewind and take stock of what Thinking Student taught us this year. 

1. Authenticity was a word that came up in every session

Throughout the day, whether our panels were talking about conversion, content, conscious advertising or international communities, it kept coming back to authenticity. And our student panel reminded us that anything less than authentic gets called out straight away. They recalled how they once saw an advert that featured a student influencer, and when they went to find that face on Instagram, it became apparent they were advertising a university they didn’t even attend. 

Don’t make the mistake of trying to be something that you’re not. Because if you’re not doing the legwork behind the statement, students won’t stand for it. But that doesn’t have to mean that your brand image has to mirror perfection. Our student panel told the audience how they love humour and informality from the brands and universities that they follow. They gushed over Duolingo’s TikTok, whose whole identity on the platform is leaning into the criticism that they’re too aggressive with their push notifications. Social media expert Yvonne echoed this by saying video is still king. But it is the unpolished, user-generated video that holds the crown. In other words, be authentic, and be human.

2. Your advocates are your biggest assets

Panellist Oliver Mott from Starling Bank reminded us that the coolest kids in school were always those in the years above. Those who have walked our walk, are those we will always listen to the most. Alex Duffy from Manchester Met University added to this with MMU’s top-performing social content; an inspirational student sharing her success story. You as an institution can shout from the rooftops that you’re the uni to choose, but unless the cool kids are saying it too, this can only go so far.

3. Be honest with not being ‘there’ yet

In a similar vein to authenticity, being honest is also critical when it comes to connecting with the student population. We heard from Tom Setter using Net Natives’ research that 93% of students think brands should take an environmental and social stand. And while plastic pledges and diversity-first approaches are a definite step in the right direction, we could all be doing more. Faster, better and bigger. So be honest. Own it. You’re not as environmentally conscious, diverse, progressive as you could be. But you’re working on it, with real actions. Our student panel confirmed this notion, with all four students confirming that any performative rainbow flag or black square is offensive. A statement that stuck with us all. It’s about quality, not relevance. Don’t just talk about what’s trending in the news right now, or is down on the calendar as ‘national awareness day’ if you’re not going to rally around the cause all year round.

4. Stay true to your brief and be bold with your convictions

When it comes to branding and finding your space in this competitive market, it’s about being bold. And often a brief or an idea can start boldly. But by the time it’s gone through waves of amends, higher-up approval processes and into the wild for eyes and minds to see, central pillars and powerful messages can become... diluted. To remedy that, as our host Nick Willmer discussed, is to build that brief robustly with market and audience data. Weave insight into the foundations of a concept, so that your team is empowered to stick with it. For the long run. And for the inevitable question of why (coming from bosses, stakeholders or followers), you are armed with the answers. This point also brings us to the next learning point…

5. Give students a seat at the table - build them into your internal conversations and processes

We talk a lot about brand advocates, ambassadors and influencers, but influencer Derin encourages the audience to take it one step further. Employ your students, give them permanent seats at the table. That way, when you’re running with bold concepts and ideas, have a diverse panel of people contributing and ultimately looking out for any red flags. Derin rightfully points out that if you do want to express support or allyship for a sensitive subject, ensure that the right people are in the room making sure it is not tone-deaf, and instead, it’s coming across as authentic. Without these diverse committees and teams, if the message isn’t right and you’re only finding out once it’s been published, it’s a sure thing that brand damage will be attached to your name in the eyes of the students.

6. There are so many opportunities, but only if you personalise and nurture

Shockingly, our conversion experts shared the stat that one in four student enquiries did not receive a response. What’s more, Uniquest’s report found that five in six enquiries did not receive a follow-up message after an enquiry either. Akero’s Alex reminded us that this is where automation comes in. So that there aren’t humans having to remember to reply, engage or direct, or in this case, forget to. Because we know that students who engage through a live chat, asking questions and enquiring, convert from offer to enrolment at 51.3%. These are not the individuals to lose in the system. But right now, three in four students are being ghosted. Don’t miss out on these opportunities, instead introduce a specialist platform like Akero to take care of this for you. 

Well, there you have it. This is just the tip of the iceberg of an incredibly insightful day. If you want to discover even more, all the sessions are available on-demand for clients and ticket holders for the whole month of November. So don’t just take our word for it, go find out for yourself. 

Once again, thank you to all of you for getting involved, both in-person and online. It really was so much better than a Zoom call. Until next time.


Photo courtesy of Chloe Hashemi

Article by

Eleana Davidson Native Author

Eleana Davidson

Content Manager